Q&A: FACHC CEO Andrew Behrman on Omicron’s Impact on Community Health Centers – Status of Reform

Andrew Behman, MBA, is the president and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers (FACHC), which provides resources such as COVID-19 testing and vaccinations through hundreds of qualified primary health care centers. at the federal level (FQHC) across Florida. Through the various clinics, FACHC provides a vital safety net of care for vulnerable populations, including Medicaid and Medicare.

During the week of December 24-30, the Florida Department of Health reported nearly 300,000 new COVID cases, double the number of cases from the Delta variant surge this summer. In this Q&A, Behrman will discuss the impact of the Omicron variant on the FACHC network and policy solutions that would continue to ensure access to care for vulnerable Florida communities.

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Nicole Pasia: How does the Omicron variant impact your work and the communities you serve?

Andrew Behman: “Community health centers, the populations we serve, are the safety net populations – underserved, uninsured, Medicaid, Medicare. In many places, these are patients with significant comorbidities. Managing their chronic disease is a challenge for themselves as well as for the providers who deliver primary health care services to these patients. So anytime you have issues with chronic disease management situations like this, whether it’s Omicron or Delta or whatever, the sensitivities to those issues are heightened by the fact that you have chronic disease management such as hypertension, diabetes, etc.

So, for our patients, we are fully aware of the potential they run, perhaps a little more than the general population. So of course for us, because we have a patient population that we are in contact with all the time, our centers have made tremendous efforts to get people to come and get vaccinated because they know what the value is for them, for the patient they serve. So it’s a big problem. Omicron is a different variant. We’ll probably see another variant after this one. But again, I think my most important comment to make is that staying the course on testing and making sure vaccines are available for people and getting them done – that’s the best way to do that. . And of course, wearing the mask and so on and so on. But when it comes to testing and vaccinating the patient, the health centers are there to do that.

NP: Are there any other issues you are currently concerned about?

A B: “Staffing is also a big challenge for us. Hospitals – we all hear about burnout – [it’s] just absolutely awful. This is a real problem, because it slows down the ability to serve patients, if you will. We had to deal with this like any other health care provider system has had to deal with this as well. It has been a big problem for us, and we are dealing with it, but it has been very difficult for the health centers. We have over 800 locations across the state of Florida. It’s a big system for FQHC. So staff is a big deal for us.

NP: Whether working with the legislature or other partners across the state, what policies do you hope to see that will help address the labor shortage?

A B: Representative Colleen Burton has shown a keen interest in examining labor issues in Florida, particularly in health care. It is manna from heaven for us, because it is the first time in many years that we have had the opportunity to engage in a discussion at the legislative level to examine what needs to happen. In fact, at the association, I hired a full-time workforce development manager to come and see where we are with workforce development… I talk about approaches a lot more aggressive in workforce development: develop your own models, make academic health centers within FQHCs. The Legislative Assembly has really stepped up its efforts as we enter this session. So I’m very excited about that.

Some of the other policies – there’s a lot of confusion around the CMS vaccination mandates and then the state no-vaccination and no-masking mandates. All of this is a challenge because we have to serve two masters. We have federal mandates that must be fulfilled in order for us to retain Medicaid funding. And at the same time, we have the state pursuing a different model on mandates. This puts us in a pickle and in the anvil. We hope this will finally happen at the federal level where we don’t have a problem to settle in terms of the choice between the state mandate and the federal mandate. It’s a big problem. But now, [while] we’re waiting to do that, we’re going to stay the course with the CMS requirements for masks, vaccines and things like that. These are challenges that all of our FQHCs face every day. »

NP: How are FQHCs managing both their COVID response, as well as their other health services?

A B: “I think it’s important for people to understand that while we’re dealing with a pandemic, we still have to provide health care services to people. And I know it’s lost in the redesign right now, but for the patients we serve, the safety net population, these are people who are really having difficulty accessing health care, whether it’s because that they don’t have insurance, or they don’t have the funds, or they don’t even have transportation. Community health centers are mandated by federal law to ensure these patients are served. So it’s a bit different from where the hospitals are. We are all primary care institutions. The front line, for us, has many faces in addition to the pandemic we have to deal with. I think it’s important for people to understand that we continue to provide primary care services to populations that need them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Image: Association of Community Health Centers of Florida

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